A pumpkin, its heart hollowed out for soup, a jagged smile carved into its shell, will hold a light on the garden steps, but that is as far as I go. Next week, rather than sending exploding rockets into the sky, I will watch as neighbours light up the darkness with their cascades of pink, green and silver. The celebrations in this house will take place around the kitchen table. And where better?
There will be hot “sausage” rolls filled not with pork but with spiced pumpkin and a dish of baked apples with maple syrup sauce. I will pass round a basket of chocolate biscuits and glasses of warm, cinnamon-spiked red wine. We will no doubt coo over the rockets and Roman candles, but everything I really look forward to about Halloween and Guy Fawkes comes on a plate.
I’m not sure why food at these autumn celebrations tastes so good. It may be the first real snap of cold weather, the nostalgic smell of cold, wet earth and spent sparklers, or perhaps it is because of the opportunity to bring out the unfussy food we really love – the buttery baked potatoes and links of thick sausages, the deep bowls of golden soup and homemade ginger or chocolate biscuits, that seem so much more appropriate than the meddling of a creative cook. We will raise a toast to these golden autumn days and sparkling nights, holding our steaming glasses and hot pastries aloft, our gifts from the kitchen to the spirits of the bonfire.
Pumpkin or butternut rolls with pomegranate molasses
The important detail here is to use a firm-fleshed pumpkin or squash, so it keeps its shape inside the pastry. Crown Prince – the apple blue pumpkin – is good, but a butternut will work, too. Just make sure to let it cool and firm up before you use it. Makes 12
For the pumpkin: butternut squash or pumpkin 1kg, peeled weight aleppo pepper ½ tsp spring onions 3 puff pastry 325g egg 1, beaten nigella seeds 2 tsp
For the dipping sauce: pomegranate molasses 4 tsp garlic 1 clove olive oil 5 tbsp lemon juice of ½ grain mustard 2 tsp
You will also need a large baking sheet
Put a deep pan of water on to boil and place a steamer basket or colander over it, covered with a lid. Cut the squash or pumpkin into 5cm pieces and steam for about 25-30 minutes until tender to the point of a knife.
Transfer the cooked squash, still in its steamer, to drain over a mixing bowl. (Even though the squash hasn’t touched the water it may still contain a little moisture.) Then put the squash into a bowl and using a potato masher or a fork, crush to a thick mash. Season with salt, black pepper and the aleppo pepper. Finely chop and add the spring onions. Set aside to cool. The mash must be firm and cold before you use it. If it isn’t then drain in it further over a bowl in the fridge.
Roll the puff pastry into a rectangle approximately 35 x 25cm, then turn the pastry so the longest side is facing you. Cut in half lengthways (to give 2 strips of pastry 35 x 12.5cm). Spoon half the squash in a line along the edge of the pastry facing you, about 2cm from the edge. Brush the pastry edge with beaten egg, then roll up tightly into a long sausage, sealing the pastry edges together with more of the egg. Repeat using the second piece of pastry and the remaining squash. Place in the fridge for 40 minutes. (Don’t be tempted to skip this step.)
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6 and place a baking sheet in the oven.
Remove the rolls of pastry from the fridge and slice each one into 6 short lengths. Using a palette knife, transfer the rolls to the heated baking sheet. Brush lightly with more beaten egg, then cut a small slit in the top of each and sprinkle with the nigella seeds. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and puffed. Remove and leave to rest for a few minutes before transferring to a serving plate or board.
Make the dip: put the pomegranate molasses in a small saucepan with the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice and mustard, bring to the boil, then pour into a small dish. Dip each roll into the sauce as you eat.
Baked apples with maple syrup and cream
I use a variety of apples here from the irresistible selection in the shops at this time of year. A big fat bramley will work nicely, too. Serves 4
apples 6, sweet and medium-sized butter 45g maple syrup 3 tbsp double cream 250ml cinnamon ½ tsp vanilla extract 1 tsp
Set the oven at 200C/gas mark 6. Using a sharp knife, score each apple 1cm down from the stem. This will allow the flesh to puff up as it bakes. Then place them, just touching, in a baking dish.
Melt the butter in a small pan, then remove from the heat and spoon over the apples. Bake until the apples have puffed up and their flesh is soft and frothy. The exact timing will depend on the variety of apple, so start checking after 25-30 minutes. The occasional baste with the buttery juices in the baking dish is a thoroughly good thing.
When the apples are nearly ready, pour the cream into a small saucepan, add the maple syrup, ground cinnamon and vanilla extract. Bring to the boil and let it bubble for a minute, then spoon over the baked apples.